December 04, 2014

With a quick glance at Oklahoma's difficult opening schedule, one might have considered Missouri as a team that would at least pose an interesting threat in its first return to Norman as a nonconference opponent.

The Tigers' early season play has done nothing to back that up, and their struggles could carry into the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Friday night against the 22nd-ranked Sooners.

Oklahoma (4-2) has fared reasonably against a slate that has included losses at Creighton and to No. 2 Wisconsin in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis following wins over then-No. 22 UCLA and Butler, which moved into the poll at No. 23 on Monday.

Missouri (4-3), though, has stumbled out of the gate.

The Sooners' 69-56 loss to the Badgers last Friday was hardly a slip up and has coach Lon Kruger feeling as though he's in a better position to assess his team.

"We know so much more about our club right now than we did three days ago, the goods, bads, everything in between," Kruger said. "That's the value of playing in a quality tournament like this."

Kruger certainly has learned his team struggles offensively, as the Sooners are shooting 39.8 percent.

Missouri's start wasn't entirely unexpected with plenty of preseason predictors ranking it near the bottom of the SEC, but the first seven games have possibly been more disappointing than projected.

The humbling could result in a .500 record after eight games for the first time since 2005-06, the last time the Tigers finished with a losing record (12-16). Their losses have come to Missouri-Kansas City, No. 3 Arizona and Purdue by an average of 16.0 points.

The Tigers have won two straight, but they've hardly been impressive.

A 65-61 home victory over 3-4 Southeast Missouri State on Tuesday followed a 74-60 win over Division II Chaminade in the seventh-place game of the Maui Invitational on Nov. 26. Missouri trailed for most of the game Tuesday before rallying in the final four minutes.

"We need that emotional leader, and right now we don't have that established," first-year coach Kim Anderson said. "We can't just wait around and just think we're going to turn it on. That's not going to happen."

That was especially true in bracketed play in Maui against Arizona and Purdue as the Tigers were limited to 35.4 percent shooting.

To make matters worse, Missouri is now without sophomore Wes Clark, who didn't join the Tigers against Southeast Missouri State. Anderson said the guard was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Clark started the first six games, averaging 9.2 points and a team-high 32.0 minutes.

Freshman forward Jakeenan Gant also remains out while the school reviews his eligibility.

The absences have moved forward Johnathan Williams III into more of a scoring role. The sophomore had a career-high 18 points Tuesday, and he's averaging 10.4 a season after starting all 35 games with a 5.8 average.

Top scorer Montaque Gill-Caesar (13.9), a freshman who was overmatched against Arizona and Purdue with a 3-for-13 shooting mark, is also shouldering plenty. The guard is shooting 38.8 percent and will have to work against Oklahoma's experienced backcourt of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard.

Hield, though, has also struggled to find his shot. The junior was limited to 14 points on 4-of-21 shooting in the final two games in the Bahamas, but he's averaging a team-high 16.7.

Missouri has won the last three meetings.

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